If your child has any kind of disability, ADHD or otherwise, you should consider creating a 504 plan or an IEP. However, you should be cognizant of the disadvantages as well as the advantages of such a choice. Having a formalized plan will bring your child’s issues to the attention of the teacher and the school district, but that does relieve you and your child of the responsibility for his actions.
First, let us look at the positives. As a high school educator in New Jersey, I face class sizes of anywhere from 20 to 30 students. Each September, I will teach five classes and see anywhere from 100 to 150 new faces. Unless your child is severely disabled, I will not notice his special needs on the first day. I probably will not notice them in the first week. By the end of the first or second month, I will only be beginning to understand what makes your child tick and how I can best reach him.
Having an IEP or 504 plan is beneficial because it brings your child’s needs to my attention. Especially with students who have been handicapped in reading and writing abilities by their needs, it helps a teacher to know before the first day what he is going to be dealing with. Last year, I taught two classes in which over a third of the students operated below grade level in reading and writing. This helped me tailor the level of the supplemental readings I used to what the students could comprehend. It saved us all a lot of painful trial and error.
Finally, it helps me diagnose the possible causes of misbehavior. If a student misbehaves because he has ADHD, for example, I would treat the situation differently than if he is oppositional. By utilizing a student who is ADHD to pass out papers and do things that require moving around the class, I can use his energy in a positive way. Likewise, I know that I need to often focus him on the task at hand. Knowing these needs in the beginning helps me get off on the right foot in September.
Of course, there are negatives as well.
Most importantly, remember that an IEP or a 504 plan is not a panacea for success. If your child is mainstreamed into a class with other students who have needs, it is difficult to remember the exact needs of each student. Last year, I had a class of twenty students and nine of them had an IEP. If your student was the only student with an IEP or 504 plan, it would be an easy thing to keep straight. As the numbers grow, and grow they do, the situation becomes more complicated.
Also, an IEP or 504 plan is not going to guard your child from appearing different from other students. In my class, most of the students with IEPs received modified tests (less answer choices on multiple choice) and were allowed to take the test in a different environment (special ed room). When test time came, the other students noticed something was different and after the second or third test they started to demand to know why. Whatever you tell those students, they will know that the other students are “different” in some way. To high schoolers, different is always bad, and it can lead to teasing.
Finally, in some cases, an IEP or 504 plan can give a student an undeserved sense of entitlement and an excuse for whatever goes wrong. One student was constantly late for class and his excuse was that he had ADHD. That is not a valid excuse; he was wandering the halls and not coming to class. Another student didn’t do something and claimed it was because he had dyslexia. He had dyslexia, but that didn’t in any way affect the task at hand. You have to make sure that students know that their specialized programs are not excuses or entitlements. They do not absolve them of responsibility for their actions.
Still, I would suggest looking into an IEP or 504 plan for any parent with a child that has some kind of mental or physical disorder. At first, use the plan to make sure that teachers are aware of your child’s needs. If your child still languishes, you can then pursue more drastic options and modifications. Just always keep in mind that as you pursue further modifications, your child will appear “different” to the other kids in the class, and you will be getting closer and closer to the old pull-out situations that we are trying to avoid.